As we move into 2024, the culinary landscape continues to evolve, with exciting trends emerging to reflect our changing tastes, and growing interest in the environmental impact of our food choices.

From molecular farming and smart plants, to retro throwbacks and umami 3.0, here are six rising food and drink trends in 2024, according to global food trends experts, The Food People.

1. Harnessing AI 

AI has the potential to revolutionise every industry, and the food and drink sector is no exception. Scientists and food producers are already working alongside AI-powered tech to cut costs and improve efficiencies, and also to advance agricultural sustainability. 

One example of this is AI used together with satellite-based remote sensing, which helps farmers analyse plant health, changes in soil composition, change in fallow land, and other sustainability indicators, enabling a faster transition towards regenerative agriculture practices.

AI will also increasingly be used to aid the consumer experience, with apps and recommendation systems that can personalise menu suggestions — tailoring them to a person’s preferences or past choices — as well as the use of chatbots in restaurants.

2. Plant-based revolution

The plant-based movement shows no signs of abating, and in the coming years we can expect to see an expansion of plant-based options on menus, from innovative meat alternatives to dairy-free cheeses and plant-powered desserts. As consumers prioritise sustainability and health, plant-based cuisine continues to redefine the culinary scene.

With a growing focus on alternative proteins, such as cultivated, precision and biomass fermentation, and molecular farming, we’ll also start to see new blending processes and innovative technologies that aim to minimise the food’s environmental impact.  Air Protein, a company founded in 2019 by Dr Lisa Dyson and Dr John Reed, leveraged NASA technology to create a protein source made from the air, with negative carbon footprint. Single-cell organisms – or cultures — act like plants and capture CO2, converting it into nutrients to feed on, resulting in a protein. The cultures are then mixed with more CO2, oxygen, hydrogen and water to spark the protein’s growth process.

3. Ambient foods go gourmet

Creativity and innovation has entered the ambient aisle of our supermarkets, with a new, premium take on tinned, dried and shelf stable produce. It’s a food and drink category that’s seen healthy consumer demand throughout Covid and the cost-of-living crisis, due to its convenience, cost, and of course shelf life, and is now getting the gourmet treatment with higher quality ingredients, exotic new flavours, and the influence of global cuisine.

Through the addition of umami, rich flavours, creative brand storytelling, and increased focus on sustainability and health benefits, there’s an exciting elevation of quality and innovation within this area.

4. Umami 3.0

Experts believe umami, often referred to as the ‘fifth taste’, is now entering its third wave, with both professional chefs and home cooks getting bolder and more creative with layering up umami flavours. By mixing different cuisine ingredients, such as soy sauce, fish sauce and miso, with some of the big players (parmesan, anchovies, truffle and seaweed), new depths and complexities are finding their way into recipes.

These layered umami flavours are then being turned into stocks and jellies, powders and sauces. The trend has even reached the sphere of drinks, with umami flavour being added to a growing number of cocktails and spirits. Think, twisted dirty martinis and tomato cocktails.

5. Retro throwback

According to The Food People, retro dishes from the 50s to the 80s are back with a vengeance. Our desire for nostalgia and familiarity has extended to the world of food and drink, with a revival of old-school appetisers like prawn cocktails and puff pastry sausage rolls, main dishes such as meatloaf and coronation chicken, and desserts of trifle and banana split.

Social media has played a big role in reigniting interest in retro cuisine, with influencers and food enthusiasts showcasing their reinterpretations of beloved classics and playing on our enduring love for tradition and comfort food.

6. Smart plants

Scientists and start-ups are embracing molecular farming to create protein factories, and gene-editing technology to give plants different advantages (such as enhanced flavour or nutritional content) or reduce or eliminate unwanted characteristics such as allergens.

Molecular farming harnesses genetically modified plants or microorganisms to produce valuable compounds. Effectively, this is done by genetic engineers introducing animal DNA or that of living organisms directly into seeds, transforming the crops into plant factories, and enabling large-scale production at a reduced cost.

ITN Business’ programme, Food and Drink: Powers Our Nation, launches at the IFE, International Food & Drink event, on 25–27 March 2024, at the ExCel London.

 

In the UK, the food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector, bigger than aerospace and automotive industries combined and directly employing close to half a million people across the region. Globally, however, our food systems are under pressure and food system innovation is key to providing solutions.

Food and Drink: Powers Our Nation will delve into this manufacturing sector, showcasing the innovations making nutritious food accessible for all. It’ll also take a closer look at the organisations helping to shape the way we eat, the technological solutions that are making food manufacturing more efficient and those helping to cut emissions within the industry.